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Story Weaving on Steroids: Real People Create Real Characters

22 Oct

This is part of a series of post that gives you tips, tricks, and dirty little secrets that will help pump up your plot, and make your story an irresistible read! Today’s trick:

Using real people to make real characters.

A question authors are often asked is “are your characters based on people you know?” most of the time the author will answer no, but let’s be honest the answer is probably yes, because if there is one thing authors are good at it’s cheating at writing.

Basing characters off real people is cheating, and it’s also genius!

Using a real person as a base for a character much like you would use white as a base for paint leads to amazing things. How so? After all, real people generally don’t have lives that are spicy enough for fiction.

Well, take a person I know. Let’s call him “John”

John’s older now, but his whole life while living in the mid-west he struggled with a drinking addiction. He’s been divorced once, and had two kids with the woman, but he has now remarried and his kids grew up with his new wife and their mother. After his remarriage he found help with his addiction and now lives happily.

Okay, that’s all well and fine, but there is no plot to John’s life. You can’t just write THAT story. But you CAN write one with someone like him. Now comes the imaginative part.

Change John’s life. Make it more tragic, more weird, or more adventurous.

For instance lets pull John out of the mid-west and stick him in England. He’s a young 23-year-old drunken Englishman in (instead of the late 1980’s) (the early 1900’s )lets say 1910. His wife didn’t leave him because of his drinking, he killed her in a fit of rage during one of his many drunken bouts. Now he can’t stand the sight of blonde women. He placed his young daughter (instead of daughters) into an orphanage to cover up the murder. He dumped his wife’s body in the river and now slogs about the bar near the river’s bridge often looking out at the water pondering suicide, until…. he meets an extraordinary woman who….

Who what?

From there you take the story where ever it may please to go.

But, just from that paragraph you have an excellent idea about who your MC is. Granted, we embellished John’s life almost to the point of  being in-recognizable, but John is still real and still very much there, and that is what makes the character seem real!

I am totally in favor of stealing people’s lives for novels. Are you?

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Story Weaving on Steroids: Painful Pasts

15 Jun

This is part of a series of post that gives you tips, tricks, and dirty little secrets that will help pump up your plot, and make your story an irresistible read! Today’s trick:

Painful Pasts

Making characters interesting is your job as a writer. One way to make a character more interesting is to give them some scars. Giving a character a painful past does a couple of things it hooks the reader with empathy, gives you a better basis for their character, and can also add suspense and tension to your plot.

Characters with painful pasts, whether it be coming from a broken home or something more dramatic like being scared by the poisonous sword of an alien warrior bring automatic empathy with them. When readers discover the situation that has scarred your character it creates instant empathy (which is a key part in hooking a reader into your story). Readers may not have been in the exact situation as your character, but they understand the emotions that go with it. Everyone can relate to fear, anxiousness, and sadness.

Giving a character a terrible memory of their pasts also sets up a basis to build that character from. People who come from bad families or have gone through traumatic experiences are often deeply effected by them. A traumatic experience will shape your characters personality. For some it will make them introverted, others will become bitter,  and still others will go through their life trying to be positive despite their past. Seeing the path your character takes after their traumatic experience will tell you a lot about their personality and make them easier to write about.

Most importantly, a difficult past or experience can provide tension and conflict for you plot. Bringing out a characters past slowly, or shrouding it in mystery will give your readers something to keep reading for. This is an especially good tactic for characters whose perspective you are not writing for. Trying to discover someones past can be a very good subplot.  A persons past can also be reviled suddenly and used as a major plot point (or turning point) in a story.

If you haven’t figured it out yet I am a HUGE Avatar fan!

Granted, a painful past is useful to add interest to your story, but they shouldn’t be used ALL the time. Not every character you write needs to come from an abusive home, or have burn marks all over their faces. A couple good examples of painful pasts that I can think of are Zuko from the show Avatar: The Last airbender. Zuko was forced at the age of 13 to dual his father in an ‘Agni Kai’ (one on one) fire bending battle because he spoke up in a war meeting and insulted a general, thus insulting his father. From then on he was left with a scar on his face, and huge dishonor on his name. This shapes Zuko into a conflicted character, part loving, part loathing his father. This will lead him to make the biggest and most difficult decision of his life: should he side with his father or with the Avatar?

Another good example can been seen in Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver. Sam, a werewolf, had his wrists slit by his parents in a bath tub while they held him down because when they found out what he was (at the age of 12)they believed they could ‘bleed the wolf out of him’. Ever since Sam can’t even look at a bath tub. This also shapes him into a shy, introverted person. And of course keeps him very far away from bath tubs!

Like I said there are plenty of good books without characters with Painful Pasts, Lauren Oliver’s novel ‘Before I Fall’ is a really good novel about a privileged girl named Samantha King. She’s never had anything bad at all happen to her. Oliver uses the plot to keep tension and if Sam had had a bad past it simply would have cluttered the plot and taken away from the impactfulness of Samantha having to repeat the same day over and over again. It also would have made the plot null and void because she probably wouldn’t have been so stuck up or unkind to others had she struggled as a child. This would have completely changed the novel!

All and all a painful pasts is a very useful trick, but should be used sparingly and in the right places!

Check out other Story Weaving on Steroids posts

 

Story Weaving on Steroids: Setting

24 Aug

Today’s tricky story steroid  is about:

Setting.

Setting, is something that is very easily overlooked. In reading and in writing. We tend to just glance over it, the setting is only a “stage, but it has more power than you know!

In order to get your plot bulked up you not only need to know your characters and your story, but also where that story takes place. There are close to a million things I could point out to you that setting does for a book, but we’ll just be focusing on three of them.

First off setting influences your entire story! Changing up a setting can potential change an entire story, or scene. For instance setting a death scene in a bedroom will be wildly different from setting it on top a  cliff with a storm coming. The way the person dies, and the brutality of that death would be very different in both settings. When you pick or change a setting you have to be conscious of that fact. Every minuet detail of that setting could change things radically. What if your character is deathly allergic to bees? Setting your character in a meadow full of flowers will hike up his heart rate more than placing the scene near an ocean.

That brings us to point two, “Weather” in setting. Weather is an amazingly powerful tool, and should be viewed and used as such. I like to think of weather (and setting in general) like the background music of a movie. As writers we can’t put in a sad song at the death of a character that will subconsciously evoke those feelings in watchers/readers. But, we do have weather. Weather sends us subconscious clues as to what we should be feeling. Is your character angry? Add in some rumbling thunder. Is this scene the happiest moment in the book? Back that up with a sunny day!

Granted, you do not, I REPEAT DO NOT, need to make every scene correspond with the proper weather. That is unrealistic, and will add a little too much cheese factor. Weather should be used for powerful, and important scenes, usually at a major plot point, climax, or resolution.Using this technique sparingly will help to drive home the mood of the scene.

Finally, you should consider what time of day, a scene takes place at. Having an ominous and spooky scene take place at night will keep the fear factor up higher than having it occur in broad daylight. Time of day can also be used to symbolize certain things. For instance in Maggie Stiefvaters book “FOREVER”  the wolf pack has to cross miles of rugged terrain to go to new  hunting grounds, while avoiding the peril of poachers, this trek takes place at daybreak, just when the sun is rising. This symbolizes the new beginning of the pack, a “new dawn” to speak.

Use place, weather, and time all together, and you can bet you’ll have some serious setting on steroids!Never forget the tools you have at hand! Setting is a big one. 🙂

What do you all think about using setting as a “character” as some authors say?

Story Weaving on Steroids: Secrets! O.o

14 Aug

This is part of a series of post that give you tips, tricks, and dirty little secrets that will help pump up your plot, and make your story an irresistible read! Today’s trick:

SECRETS.

If you want to add tension and hype to your plot GIVE SOMEONE A SECRET!

Giving a character/or group a secret helps to create tension (if you have multiple POV) or (if you’re using a single narrator) will add a surprise in for your reader and your MC.

having someone hold something back can also add to their character background and give them “levels” (something that i’ll be writing a post on soon). Afterall if you’re keeping a secret there are only a few reasons why you’d be doing it. One, the secret will hurt your reputation/the way someone or a group of people will view you. Two, your being forced to keep the secret (if you don’t something bad will happen to you or something/someone you care about. Or, three, it’s not your secret to tell.

All of these things will tell us something about a character. That they’re self-conscious, or that they care deeply about others. Having a character keep a secret allows you to open a new door into their past. It also gives other characters a chance to show they’re true colors in their reactions when a secret is revealed. Do they hold a grudge or do they forgive easily?

Anyway you spin it, if adding a juicy secret works with your story throw one in their!